Lessons from Indonesia | Deccan Herald

Recent public speeches and writings in India are dominated by the use of two words: ‘Constitution’ and ‘religion’. Those who swear by the Constitution declare it a secular document and point to its provisions relating to the freedom to profess, practice and propagate one’s religion and the duty of the state not to discriminate on the basis of religion.

On the other hand, supporters of religion, while expressing respect for constitutional values, point out that religion has never been a purely private matter in India; religious symbols are displayed publicly and rituals are performed publicly because they are part of the tradition and culture we have inherited.

At first glance, both statements are true. The question is how do they translate into practice? People of different faiths live and practice their religion; they go to their places of worship and perform prayers and rituals without hindrance.

But the public sphere has been tainted by violent incidents and vitriolic rhetoric between different religious groups and communities, prompting the Supreme Court to step in and call on the government to take proactive steps to combat hate speech. Disputes over temples and mosques range from Babri Masjid to Ayodhya to Gyanvyapi and Kashi Viswanath to Gyanvyapi.

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A problem like hijab concerning a school in a city, Udupi, which could have been solved locally, takes on national proportions, reaching the gates of the supreme court. Strangely, the two bench judges chose to disagree, further complicating the matter.

In a multi-religious and multi-cultural society with a long tradition of religious disputes and social conflicts like ours, certain questions relating to identities are likely to arise from time to time in one form and another.

The challenge facing the state and society is how to resolve them or at least contain them without giving way to violence and acts of revenge. Indonesia seems to have found a way out of such conflicts within Islam. The arrival of IS in 2013 exacerbated the ultra-conservative doctrines of salafist (authentic Islam) and wahhabi (a Sunni Islamist fundamentalist movement) promoted by Saudi Arabia, which has long dominated the global discourse of Islam. This contrasted with the traditional practice of Islam in Indonesia, which was more moderate, tolerant and inclusive and contributed to relative peace and harmony in its society.

Concerned about the spread of radical Islam and shocked by the 2002 Bali bombings that claimed the lives of 202 people, religious leaders in Indonesia formulated what has been called “Nusantara Islam which interpreted Islam taking into account the local customs of its fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence that emphasizes human understanding of the divine). Nusantara refers to the Indonesian archipelago.

Thus, Nusantara Islam came to represent the Indonesian brand of Islam which embodied the different cultures of its people and was offered as an alternative model to Saudi Wahhabism. This model received the support of the Indonesian President at the time, Joko Widodo, who considered it more compatible with the cultural values ​​of his country. In 2019, the National Conference of Ulama expressed its agreement with the concept of Nusantara Islam and helped spread its message.

Can we in India think of a model that embodies our own cultural values ​​of tolerance, compassion and the spirit of unity in diversity, all encapsulated in the oft-repeated principle of vasudaiva kutumbakam – the world is one family ? Before offering it to the world, we should practice the precept in our own country. Nusantara Islam is a model for reconciling differences within a religion, but in India we need a model that appeals to different religions and cuts across different interpretations. As a democracy, we must also take into account the constitutional provisions and the rights guaranteed to citizens under them.

The ‘argumentative’ Indian is prone to dragging any interpretation through the courts and making it a political issue. Levi Strauss, the German-American anthropologist and political theorist, may have anticipated what is happening in India today when he described religion as a “theologico-political problem.” Religion and politics have clearly become mixed, with almost all political parties invoking one god or another and their leaders resorting to temple races on the one hand and religious seers resorting to political agitations to achieve their goals, such as reservations for their own castes, on the other. The other. This presents a conundrum, calling on the courts to find solutions within the framework of what is avowedly a “secular” democracy.

In the prevailing politico-religious environment, which model is best suited to India? In my view, the answer lies in the Constitution itself. Instead of obsessing over fundamental rights, let’s turn our attention to Section 51A, which sets out the fundamental duties of citizens. Under this article, “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India”, among other things, “to promote the spirit of common brotherhood among all the peoples of India” and “to preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture”. The Supreme Court, while interpreting ‘composite culture’, observed: “Hinduism has developed a resilience to adapt and imbibe tolerance; cultural wealth with religious assimilation; and became a land of religious tolerance… Each religion contributed to the enrichment of the Indian composite culture as a happy mixture or synthesis. Our religious tolerance has thus received reflections in our constitutional credo” (Bommai vs. Union of India, 1994).

Recognizing the “make-up” of our culture, all political parties and religious leaders must try to promote the “spirit of common brotherhood” among their followers, and instead of running to court, they must find a way to resolve disputes and disputes in a spirit of brotherhood. But we need a mechanism for this, which can take the form of an inter-religious commission composed of eminent personalities representing different faiths – Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc. – with a mandate to resolve inter-religious disputes and at the same time take measures to promote “fraternity”, the value enshrined in the preamble of our Constitution. Details regarding the composition, powers and functions of such a commission can be deliberated in a transparent manner, and it can be given constitutional status to make it an effective body.

India and Indonesia should consider resuming the inter-religious dialogue initiated in 2018 and consider steps to counter religious radicalism and terrorism in both countries and globally to advance the cause of peace and harmony.

(The author is the former Chief Secretary to the Government of Karnataka)